January 29, 2020

Low-down on the farm: Farmers get more comfortable with uncomfortable conversations in 2020

By Jeanine Moyer

Here are just some of the pressing issues with which intrepid Canadian farmers are coping. Many of these issues are not unique to farms and farmers, and both consumers and the food industry as a whole would do well to take note of what’s going on at ground zero. Forget what you think you know about farms – they are 21st-century businesses run by men and women who are just as capable, if not more so from years of practice, of ingenious solutions and progressive thinking as anyone out there.

Reducing plastics

Farmers have long regarded themselves as the original stewards of the land, but they also know everyone has room for improvement. Leading the way is Cleanfarms, a voluntary stewardship program that collects plastics commonly used on farms. Thanks to the program, more than 126 million plastic jugs have been recycled into new products instead of being disposed of in landfills over the past three decades. Last year, Cleanfarms challenged Canadian farmers to recycle 100% of their farm-used plastic containers, gaining awareness and momentum that sets up 2020 to be the year farmers decrease their single-use plastics and ramp up their recycling programs on the farm.

Taking action on mental health

Traditionally, farmers are characterized as stoic, strong, and silent on matters of mental health. But that’s changing. Mental health is part of all of us, and the agricultural community is speaking up and breaking down barriers on this all-important issue. More farmers are talking about mental health, they are reaching out to each other, asking for and offering help and taking this health concern public. To kick off the new year, The Do More Agriculture Foundation, a not-for-profit championing mental health in agriculture across Canada, launched its second awareness campaign called ‘It Starts With Me.’ This campaign highlights that changing the narrative around mental health starts with each of us personally and 2020 looks like it’s going to be the year when Canadian farmers cut the stigma and change the conversations around mental health.

Safety comes first

Every job is different on the farm and accidents do happen. From operating large equipment to working with animals and battling Mother Nature, working safely on a farm can be challenging. Farmers, their families, and employees always strive for safe workplaces by improving working conditions and training workers. The safety hazards of working with grain (one of Canada’s top export commodities) is a growing trend in farm safety. This year more farmers, farm employees, and fire rescue personnel will be participating in prevention education, rescue training, and on-site workplace training with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association.

Improving farm practices

Technology has shaped farming practices into the innovative, progressive industry that Canadian agriculture is today. Ongoing research and new technologies are evolving farm management practices of crop rotations, soil health improvement, managing manure and nutrients, and improving the sustainable use of herbicides. These are just a few of the areas farmers will be honing in on this year to improve the sustainability and management of their farms – for 2020 and decades to come.

Grooming the next farm owner

Ninety-eight per cent of Canadian farms are still family-owned. And most of them plan to keep it in the family. But, according to the 2016 Census, Stats Canada reported only eight per cent of Canadian farms reported having a written succession plan. While that number is alarming, we know the generational transition of management on farms is already happening. Younger generations have entered and will continue to enter family farm businesses, and the older generation is sharing management responsibilities. This year we’ll see more young farmers taking the reins to make input, cropping, and animal management decisions. And, this new decade will see those responsibilities expand to include large machinery purchases and financial management decisions, as the older generation mentors their successors. In the meantime, more formal written succession plans will be developed to ensure a smooth transition of family farms in Canada.

For a more complete picture of the changing demographics of Canadian farm operators, have a look at these Statistics Canada graphs. And for a look at the key trends in the food and agriculture industry, download your free copy of the 2020 Nourish Trend Report.